How Do You Sterilize a Dental Handpiece?
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How Do You Sterilize a Dental Handpiece?

Dental handpieces and instruments function as the requisite tools that dental office workers use to render effective oral hygiene care to patients. As such, these dental instruments are used repeatedly to clean, scale, and probe the soft tissue of a patient’s mouth. This exposes dental handpieces to the risk of contamination if not properly cleaned and sanitized. The question that many have is just how do you sterilize a dental handpiece?

The answer is through a sterilization process that is both manual and mechanical. The process of sterilizing a dental handpiece must abide by the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To not do so is to risk the safety of patients as well as the reputation and financial security of your dental practice.

Fortunately, the dental instrument experts at Orissal offer products that are ideally suited for sterilization. Made with the finest materials, our dental instruments offer both durability and effectiveness in the face of repeated use. If you are interested in learning more about sterilizing our dental handpieces, please visit our website.

How to Sterilize a Dental Handpiece

There are a few different methods that can be employed when sterilizing a dental handpiece. The industry standard, an autoclave uses heat and pressurized steam to sterilize dirty dental handpieces. Alternatively, dry heat sterilizers introduce temperatures of up to 320° F for several minutes to destroy harmful pathogens. Yet another effective means of sterilization is through unsaturated chemical vapor. This type of sterilization utilizes heated chemicals such as formaldehyde and alcohol to the surface area of dental handpieces, thereby sterilizing the instrument.

Yet, while sterilization is the essential part of the cleansing process, it is but a step. The sterilization of dental handpieces involves more than the simple exposure of contaminated instruments to sterilizing agents. Most dental instruments are used invasively, which requires a more comprehensive cleaning process. For instance, the CDC actually classifies dental instruments by risk of infection into three categories – critical, semi-critical, and non-critical. The CDC recommends that critical and semi-critical instruments be first cleaned before sterilization. Here is a list of dental instruments classified by CDC guidance:

  • Critical – These types of instruments penetrate soft tissue, bone, and may enter the bloodstream, making them a high risk for contamination or infection if not properly sterilized. Scalers, burs, blades, and surgical handpieces all fall under this category.
  • Semi-critical – Instruments such as these are often used to touch mucous membranes and are not employed in penetrative measures. Mouth mirrors, reusable impression trays, condensers, and dental handpieces such as drills are all considered semi-critical.
  • Non-critical – These instruments only come in contact with the skin making them low risk for infection. Blood pressure cuffs, radiograph cones, facebows, and pulse oximeters are all examples of non-critical dental instruments.

If your dental handpiece falls under critical or semi-critical, then additional steps must be taken to clean and sterilize your equipment. The process set out below is an effective way to dramatically reduce the odds that your dental handpiece carries pathogens. While dental handpiece sterilization can be time-consuming, it is necessary for the health of both patients and dental workers alike.

Clean the Surface Area of Your Dental Handpiece

The CDC recommends that you run your dental handpiece while flushing it with water for 30 seconds. This ensures that contaminants located inside the internal water line are removed. Hand brushing the exterior of the handpiece under running water is also necessary. Using a mild detergent while hand brushing is recommended, although alcohol should never be used in disinfecting as it can reduce the efficacy of sterilization. Most importantly, once you are done cleaning and rinsing your dental handpiece, you must thoroughly dry it. This is especially crucial for dental offices that employ chemical sterilization as excess moisture can cause oxidation within the handpiece.

Ensure Proper Handpiece Lubrication

Discharge and apply the appropriate oil lubricant to the mechanical components of your dental handpiece. The amount applied must be generous enough so that lubricant actually oozes from the head of the handpiece. This substantial amount is needed to ensure that handpiece gears are properly doused in lubricant. Oil lubricant is generally delivered through sprays or eye-dropper style applicators. Eye dropper-style applicators might be a more prudent choice as they allow for better control over the amount of lubricant inserted into the handpiece.

Dispense Excess Oil in Handpiece

Running the dental handpiece for 20 to 30 seconds evenly distributes lubricant throughout the interior of the handpiece. Additionally, running the handpiece also reduces the risk of oil coagulating during steam sterilization. It is important to note that while it is prudent to install a bur before running the handpiece, some manufactures explicitly state not to do so. In this case, dental offices should look to invest in air flushing stations that allow dental handpieces to be rid of excess oil without needing to run it.

Sterilize the Dental Handpiece

This straightforward step only requires that you clean any excess oil from the surface of the dental handpiece before bagging it for sterilization. Once bagged, you can sterilize your dental handpiece in the way deemed appropriate by the handpiece manufacturer.

Dry the Dental Handpiece

Once sterilization is complete, you should remove your bagged dental handpieces and place them sterile side up atop the sterilizer. The heat from the sterilizer promotes quicker drying. Additionally, some sterilizers now offer drying compartments outside the chamber, meaning that you can safely stow your sterilized dental equipment while it dries.

Contact our Dental Handpiece Experts Today to Learn More About How to Sterilize a Dental Handpiece

Dental handpieces are workhorses in any dental office, often utilized for specialized and routine procedures. Orissal offers dental handpieces that can withstand the demands of constant sterilization. With an optional titanium coat, our products are made to be safely cleaned without suffering any damage. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website.